We should use our newfound wealth to enrich lives of everyone

We should use our newfound wealth to enrich lives of everyone

I have good news for you. You’re rich and getting richer. Every one of you.

You’re worth a cool €160k. Well, €158,986 to be exact. And not just you. Your wife or partner is worth exactly the same; so is each of your children, and each of your grandchildren. 

If there are five of you in the house, your household is worth €800,000. You probably each have a jacuzzi.

What do you mean you don’t believe it? 

It has to be true. It’s set out, in all its detail, in tables published by the Central Bank a few days ago. 

When you take the value of the house you own, and add the value of your savings, your stocks and shares, your nice little pension fund, and a few other assets — all that antique furniture you have — it comes to an average of nearly €160,000 for each and every one of us. 

And if you multiply that average by the total number of us, you come up with a staggering figure: €777.2bn. €777,200,000,000. 

The richest we’ve ever been in our history. Celtic Tiger, followed by recession, and look at us.

We’re not just richer than at any time before, we’re less in debt than we’ve been for a long, long time.

What do you mean, you don’t own a house? And you’ve no stocks and shares? No guaranteed pension; no antique paintings hanging on your walls? Are you telling me that the Central Bank has it wrong?

Or is it possible that statistics like this tell a quite different story?

Actually, there’s no data in the Central Bank that tells us how all that enormous wealth is distributed. 

But I’m guessing that if they did the work, they’d find that there’s a huge gap between those who own the houses and have all the assets, and those who own nothing.

But another set of statistics, the ones published by the Central Statistics Office about poverty, tell you that one in 16 people in Ireland lives in consistent poverty. 

Single parent households fare the worst by far: One in every five lives well below every poverty line. 

Those of us who fare the best — who are at the least risk of poverty — are those of us who have retired and who own our houses.

The good news isn’t so good after all. In fact, the story is an age-old one. 

The rich are getting richer. The poor, statistically speaking, anyway, may not be getting poorer, but they’re stuck. Really stuck. 

There’s no valuable antiques in any of those houses. In fact, there are no houses, not for far too many people.

So here’s really what it’s telling us. We’re a very rich society. We’re a very divided society. We have the capacity to do something about it.

But maybe that’s not something we want to know. Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe is preparing his next budget, and he may be considering scaling back on tax cuts because of the fear of Brexit. 

But there will almost certainly be a fiver across the board for all pensions (presumably, because of the fear of pensioners).

We should use our newfound wealth to enrich lives of everyone

There are two things in that last paragraph that I don’t want misunderstood. We do need to be afraid of Brexit. 

It’s absolutely clear, if it wasn’t before, that crazy Boris and his mad lieutenants are prepared to drive the British people into penury and hardship, ensuring a hard border in Ireland, in order to deliver on the referendum result (and he lied through his teeth to persuade the British people to vote for it).

The leaking of the Operation Yellowhammer papers, with all their incredibly bleak predictions, proves that even the senior civil service in Britain (because that’s where the papers came from) are terrified of what their prime minister is prepared to do.

The other thing I don’t want to be misunderstood about is that there are pensioners in Ireland who desperately need that increase in the budget.

There are pensioners who live alone, pensioners who have to deal with high rents, pensioners who don’t have the means to keep themselves warm and well.

But not all pensioners need an increase. And very few of us will see any significant improvement in the quality of our lives from a tax cut.

Even if there were no fear of Brexit, the right thing to do — this year and maybe for the next five years — is to decide that there will be no tax cuts and only targeted welfare increases, and to put the fruits of our national wealth into better services, instead.

We seriously need to invest in childcare and in early years education. 

We need to build better facilities — an extension to every single national school in Ireland would be a good start — and we need to recruit and train people who will build their careers in the field. 

An investment like that would not just result in much better early years services, but also in more affordable services.

And at the other end of the spectrum, we need to make a major, ongoing investment in home-care packages for elderly and frail people.

Irish citizens, who build this thriving economy, are entitled to a guarantee of dignity as they get older. 

Better services to enable them to live well at home, and be supported when they need it, are the least we should be doing.

Here's the other thing. Decent public services, which meet the needs of citizens in a real way, add to our prosperity. 

If we were making those kinds of investments, the economic return would make us richer in the end. And those services would add very considerably to the quality of all our lives.

And there are moments in all of our lives when it’s a good thing to take stock. Maybe make a different decision. 

This might be a moment like that. It mightn’t have been highly publicised, but we’ve discovered, this week, that, as a whole, we’re richer than we have ever been, and if we can avoid the worst effects of crazy Boris, we’ll get richer still.

Is that the moment to be demanding a tax cut — especially a tax cut that won’t make a blind bit of difference to the vast majority of us? 

Is that the moment to insist that no matter what our means already, we must have an extra fiver in our pensions?

In fact, if we really wanted to make the kind of difference that would last, shouldn’t we be talking about how much of the significant wealth many of us enjoy we’d be prepared to contribute to turn this into a better country for everyone? 

Forget tax cuts and miserable little pension increases. Let’s build something real and lasting with all that lovely money we have.

More on this topic

Any Budget increases to carbon tax will be gradual, says Finance MinisterAny Budget increases to carbon tax will be gradual, says Finance Minister

US lobby group fires warning over FDI levelsUS lobby group fires warning over FDI levels

What we can expect in Budget 2020What we can expect in Budget 2020

Finance Minister claims threat of no-deal Brexit has forced him into 'minimal' tax cutsFinance Minister claims threat of no-deal Brexit has forced him into 'minimal' tax cuts

More in this Section

Idealism first casualty in an auction electionIdealism first casualty in an auction election

EU mortgages €80k cheaper than oursEU mortgages €80k cheaper than ours

President is rightPresident is right

Letter to the Editor: Ireland can be a ray of light in an intolerant worldLetter to the Editor: Ireland can be a ray of light in an intolerant world

More by this author

Boris Johnson has no regard for Ireland and not much for Britain, eitherBoris Johnson has no regard for Ireland and not much for Britain, either

That Britain is utterly divided is more than a tragedy, it’s a crimeThat Britain is utterly divided is more than a tragedy, it’s a crime

You don’t have to run, swim, and cycle to have an ‘iron’ heartYou don’t have to run, swim, and cycle to have an ‘iron’ heart

Too many women suffered before Ireland embraced the spirit of 1968Too many women suffered before Ireland embraced the spirit of 1968


Lifestyle

The evening may have gotten off to a slow start, but velvet-voiced Canadian singer-songwriter Feist’s performance at Cork Opera House on Saturday night was worth waiting for.Velvet-voiced Feist worth the wait

More From The Irish Examiner